How does the highline allow mountain addicts to live “as in a parallel world”?

“The slackline has suffered a bit from the casual image of a hippie who appears in the park wearing harem pants and bolas. » Highliner for 10 years, Antoine Mesnage does not have to convince us that his passion is a real extreme sport. Arves-en-ciel, which he made in July 2020 and which the Banff Mountain Film Festival is currently hosting in France, shows how the 2.5cm wide elastic band can lead to high altitude performance. Appeared in the United States in the 1980s, where it gradually satisfied the climbers who were addicted to place from Yosemite (California), the slackline (or “loose line”) was imported into France from 2005 thanks to Damien Mercier, who created Slack.fr.

“Everyone laughed at him then and told him his thing wouldn’t work,” recalls Antoine Moineville, one of the founders of the Flying Frenchies in the Alps. This collective of mountaineering dingoes will fuel the rise of highlining in France, namely the practice of slacklining at height, all secured with a harness. “We were faced with a huge unknown,” he explains. We had to demystify things because we didn’t know if our line would really hold up. †

If so, we assure you that there is indeed a highliner at the foot of this mind-boggling line between the Aiguilles d’Arves. – Antoine Mesnage

Highliners seen as “the tightrope walkers of the modern age”

In 2010, the Flying Frenchies took on their first major challenge on the Dent du Géant (at 4,014 m in the Mont-Blanc massif) in quarters… in the middle of winter, which was “a bit stupid”, as he confesses today the highliner. On the program, a bivouac at -20°C at almost 4,000 m altitude and a high mountain crossing that has become a cult, before a large number of other lines were opened by the collective in the Mont-Blanc sector. The Flying Frenchies do not hesitate to combine extreme sports in their projects, with base jumping in mind. Followed by sponsors and filmed by Sébastien Montaz in impressive productions (little red busI believe I can fly…), they are the major influence of many highline enthusiasts, starting with the team ofArves-en-ciel

How do these ‘modern tightrope walkers’, estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 in France, manage to outdo themselves, 12 years after the first stunts of the Flying Frenchies, between mountain and circus? Breaking the record for longest line is clearly a universal problem passed down by the Guinness Book. About 60 meters 10 years ago, it has been fixed at 2.3 km since July last year, the work of four German athletes in Sweden.

In Parmelan, above Annecy, on a line 20 meters long, Antoine Crétinon shows all the creativity that the discipline allows with his partner Lucie.
In Parmelan, above Annecy, on a line 20 meters long, Antoine Crétinon shows all the creativity that the discipline allows with his partner Lucie. – @antoine.mesnage on Instagram

“We install a line to sublimate the mountain”

More than remotely, other highliners will focus more on “unequal places” for their adventures. “We install a line to sublimate the mountain, Antoine Mesnage slips. We like to feel like pioneers when we open a route like the one between the Aiguilles d’Arves. The 27-year-old photographer and videographer from Annecy gives the artistic and aesthetic dimension of the field a prominent place.

Arves-en-ciel, it is a dream shared by Antoine Cretinon and Camille Le Guellaut, to cover the 480 m that connect two needles of Arves, between Savoie and Hautes-Alpes, at the same altitude (3,514 m). This incredible line, which mobilized 12 people for its colossal installation, proves to what extent every major highline project, at the limits of mountaineering, must be collective.

Drone and fishing line prove valuable

Because the athletes are faced with a whole puzzle, with anchor points to be determined, such as stones and trees. ‘s teamArves-en-ciel, who had to file a file upstream to obtain a permit to fly from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), also chose “the most comfortable option” to gradually roll out its entire line: send a drone with a fishing rod line to the finish needle. Qualitative kamoulox.

Long before they got to this 480m crossing at a very variable pace, from 25 minutes for Antoine Cretinon to 55 minutes for third friend Théo Sanson, they had all done their ranks on a slackline between two trees, mostly barefoot. Once the necessary technical knowledge is mastered under these conditions, enthusiasts ofoutdoorslike our triplets Antoine, don’t linger until we consider the highline, and thus even the skyline, when it comes to confronting the high mountains.

“We must learn to disconnect the brain”

To hear them, mastering the sit-start is the real sesame for large spaces. Welcome to mastering a fear that is a priori incomparable to other extreme disciplines. “It’s something that’s not human at all,” says Antoine Mesnage. We have to learn to disconnect the brain, to put ourselves in our bubble. I had to accept that I was able to set up a line, that I was sure it would hold up, to tame this fear. But she’s still there, and happy, because she’s keeping you from stupid things. †

Everything is lined in highline, from the straps to the safety ropes. This did not stop Antoine Cretinon (26), who is used to climbing and freestyle/freeride skiing, from coming out “marked” from his first time at Lac du Bourget (Savoie).

I ran into a limit. I could only take two steps, it was too much for me. But the nights that followed I thought a lot about this crossing and it was stronger than me, I had to go back. For a while it was automatic: as soon as I got my feet on the ground again, I wanted to be on the leash again. But all of this was so disturbing that I didn’t enjoy it until afterward at first. Then we understand that we are in a parallel world. †

“If I feel I’m stressed, I can throw myself into it on purpose”

This “self-taught” sport, which has no federation, requires “total physical and mental relaxation”. For example, as an engineer in Grenoble when on dry land, Antoine Cretinon trains by meditating. Inevitably, the fear depends in part on the athletes’ relationship to the fall. “It can be good to fall to free yourself from a burden,” he explains. Because it’s easy to get back on the line very quickly, I can deliberately throw myself up when I feel I’m stressed. One friend even begins to sit on the leash, before systematically swinging into the void and then attacking his crossing. †

Antoine Cretinon is in the middle of crossing the Aiguilles d'Arves, in July 2020.
Antoine Cretinon is in the middle of crossing the Aiguilles d’Arves, in July 2020. – Antoine Mesnage

An amazing ritual, while some sometimes dare to launch themselves without armor on a high line, in free solo† “Of course the smallest mistake there can be fatal, whether it’s at 10 meters or 1,000 meters, but it’s not madness because we know how to catch up with the line if we fall, remembers Antoine Mesnage. We are not cheats at death, besides 99% of highline projects are done while hanging. The few highline-related deaths in the world are mainly related to falls during line installation or the breaking of anchor points.

Nathan Paulin blew up the highline in France in the media

“You risk much more serious injuries by performing tricks on a line three feet off the ground [trickline] only if we fall into the void in the skyline, which we always overtake”, assures Antoine Mesnage.

Nathan Paulin, the GOAT of the highline in France, especially since his record for the longest crossing in an urban environment in 2017, with the 670 m separating the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadéro, has clearly contributed to the media boom of the discipline for 10 years. But the infinite sporting and artistic perspectives that the highline seems to allow is also what makes its popularity.

The young Savoyard Tania Monier, who sometimes plays the highline flute, has already crossed a 1.4 km border in Switzerland.
The young Savoyard Tania Monier, who sometimes plays the highline flute, has already crossed a 1.4 km border in Switzerland. -Louise Gouvion

“Playing music on a line is a magical feeling”

“It’s so varied that I can’t imagine ever getting tired,” says Savoyarde Tania Monier (24 years old). There I practice a lot of freestyle, which explodes with competitions, and sometimes I also play the flute on a leash. I concentrate me much more on the music than on my balance, and completely forget that I am above the void.It is a magical feeling.The company Houle Douce, founded in 2016 in Marseille, notably with Louise Lenoble, even offers air shows all over the world combining music live and highline.

Now a high mountain guide, Antoine Moineville (37) has stepped back with the highline. He maintains a moving image of this discipline that he helped launch in France: “Highline-haute montage marriage is magnificent. This tightrope walker who walks in a fleeting way between two mountains always fascinates me”. Enough to make these myriad highlighter exploits as immortal as Highlander, right?